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From bunions to hammertoes : How to avoid the shoes that kill your feet

Selecting the right pair of shoes

The oldest pair of shoes dates back more than 40,000 years. Initially designed to protect the feet, the expectations and requirements of footwear have changed considerably over the years. However, three major factors still play a key role in choosing the right footwear today: form, function and fit.  

Form refers to the aesthetic design of the shoe, hence, it changes with the trends in the fashion industry. Function addresses its purpose while fit relates to the ability of the footwear to accommodate to the shape of the foot.  

Fit is one of the most vital aspects of footwear as a good fit eventually translates to good functionality. Unfortunately, finding a proper balance between the three factors is next to impossible and people usually end up compromising on one or two of them. 

With age, choosing footwear that accommodates the foot both in width and length becomes all the more essential as the shape of the feet changes as we grow older. Many people, especially women, develop broader feet with ageing secondary to problems like arthritis, flat feet and bunions. Moreover, the unilateral deformity can result in a size difference between the feet, making standard female footwear unsuitable. As a result, finding an appropriately fit shoe that accommodates all the dimensions of the deformed foot becomes challenging.  

Incorrectly fitted footwear is associated with a number of serious consequences such as ulcers and infection, especially in diabetic people. Patients with diabetes have a high risk of developing diabetic neuropathy that results in numbness in both feet. Any minor trauma or pressure caused by ill-fitting shoes can cause blisters and wounds in the feet. Studies show that diabetics wearing tight or loose shoes are 5 times more likely to have foot ulceration. It has also been observed that diabetic patients have broader feet as compared to non-diabetic people. So, many of them when buying shoes of adequate length end up buying narrower shoes. 

It is widely known and acknowledged that comfortable shoes and good foot health are both interdependent and interconnected. Shoes play a dual role in both protecting the feet and providing comfort while walking. Ill-fitting footwear is associated with not just foot pain but also deformities and pain in the proximal parts of the body such as the knee, hip, and back. It also increases the risk of injuries and can have an impact on your gait. Picking the right pair of shoes is hence essential to healthy and pain-free living. 

Read: 12 everyday tips for foot care in diabetes

Are you wearing the wrong shoes? 

The purpose of shoes is to give adequate cushioning and support to the feet. At the same time, they should be visually appealing as well. Many a time, we end up compromising on comfort and fit for shoes that look good. According to a study conducted in the US, almost 70% of the participants were reportedly wearing shoes that didn’t accommodate the length or the width of the feet. Ill-fitting shoes can result in a number of foot problems such as: 

  • Aching feet is the most common problem faced by women due to inappropriate choice of shoes. A study quoted that approximately three-fourths of the women suffer from aching feet. In the majority of cases, the reason is ill-fit shoes. 
  • There is a universal agreement that wearing heels higher than 2 inches is associated with a number of foot problems. Stilettos are associated with higher foot pain and future risk of problems like foot arthritis, bunions and Haglund’s deformity. Apart from that, high heels are also associated with a higher risk of knee pain and future arthritis. 

Hence, we should avoid regular use of high heels and save them for special occasions.  

  • Tight shoes make feet more prone to fungal infections and pain that can lead to diseases such as athlete’s foot. 
  • Ladies wearing shoes with a narrow toe box have a higher risk of problems like bunions (bony bump formed at the joint of your big toe due). 
  • Frequently wearing small shoes can misalign the toes and result in hammertoes (curling of the toes), which further increases the pressure on the foot. 
  • Loose shoes can also lead to problems like blisters (fluid-filled sac) due to friction or persistent rubbing of the foot against the sole of the shoe. 

So, if you also have the habit of wearing short, tight, or loose shoes; it is time to rethink your choice of shoes. It is time to stop punishing your feet and reward them with comfort. 

How to choose the perfect fit? 

Choosing the right and fit pair of shoes is no rocket science. All you have to do is keep the following things in mind while selecting new shoes: 

  • Usually, go shopping for footwear after late afternoon because the muscles of the foot are generally elongated in the daytime. 
  • You must wear your regular socks before you try the new shoe so that you get exact fit shoes after putting on the socks. 
  • Make sure that your new shoe has enough room for movement of toes and heels. Approx. half an inch space should be present before the index toe and the end of the shoe. 
  • Measure the size of shoe every time you buy one as the shape of the foot may change with time. 
  • The size of both your feet may be different. You should go for the size of larger foot. 
  • Take a walk and observe if you have any discomfort while standing or walking. 
  • If a footwear is not comfortable while wearing for the first time, it should not be bought. There is a less likelihood that it would stretch with time no matter what the sales person claims. 
  • Pay attention to the inside material of the foot. Tags and the rough surface can irritate the foot. This is especially important in diabetics who have neuropathy and are at risk of ulcers. Diabetic patients should go for shoes that can provide a soft base to the feet and prevent ulcers. If you are diabetic, you can consult your doctor for suggestions of appropriate footwear and in some cases, get custom made shoes.  
  • A proper examination of the sole of the shoes is needed. The bottom of the shoes should be made of a material that provides better grips and is durable. 
  • Proper selection of shoes based on feet deformity should be done. For patients with bunions, shoes with wide toe box is necessary. Similarly, patients with hammer toe must have adequate depth in the front of the shoe to accommodate deformed toes. Boots are good options for those with ankle instability as they give a support to the ankle from all sides. 
  • Footwear should also be chosen based on the type of foot. Overpronators or those with flat feet go well with extra support while those with supinated feet need extra cushioning. 
  • Sturdy pair of boots with steel-toed work is an excellent option for people who have to lift heavy weights regularly. These types of shoes can safeguard them from fracturing their toes or ingrown nail development due to a hit on foot. 

Be extra careful when you are selecting your footwear and abstain from wearing uncomfortable pairs. A seemingly innocuous pair of shoes may translate into a long-term foot disorder. Also, perform foot exercises to improve the strength of all the 26 bones, joints, ligaments and muscles of the feet. To keep your feet healthy and strong, you can consult our expert orthopaedic doctors at the CK Birla Hospital Gurgaon.  

Read: 4 Types of foot pain one should not ignore

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